Bernie Sanders Joins Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act to Federally Legalize Weed

Bernie Sanders is the latest senator to sign on to a bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and punish states that continue criminalizing weed.

Several potential 2020 presidential contenders in the Senate are now co-sponsors of the Marijuana Justice Act, a weed-decriminalization bill first drafted by Democratic Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, in August 2017. Senator Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, signed his name as a co-sponsor Thursday, joining Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat, who political pundits say might be considering her own chase for the Democratic nomination for president along with Booker and Sanders.

"Leaders in the Democratic Party are increasingly recognizing that leading the charge on legalization is not only good policy, but good politics," Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML, said in a press release Thursday. "The constituencies which the party claims to stand for are the ones who have most felt the weight of prohibition and the lifelong consequences of prohibition."

The Marijuana Justice Act takes several major actions to decriminalize marijuana at both the state and federal levels. First, the proposed bill’s removal of weed from the 1970 Controlled Substances Act would allow individual states to legalize the drug, currently listed as a Schedule I illegal narcotic alongside cocaine, heroin and LSD. Second, the bill would hold federal funding from states that continue to criminalize marijuana and inordinately prosecute minorities. Last, the bill creates a Treasury federal fund that could be used for projects to reinvest and rebuild low-income communities through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sanders has repeatedly criticized marijuana criminalization for targeting minority communities, a sentiment echoed by Gillibrand. In a February Facebook Live video announcing her support for the bill, Gillibrand noted that despite marijuana usage being almost identical across racial lines, African-Americans and other minorities are far more statistically likely to be arrested and convicted for weed-related crimes.

“The way our criminal justice system is working is so harmful, and so biased,” said Gillibrand.

Sanders has also paralleled his support for the decriminalization of marijuana on the federal level with his support of weed potentially helping to reduce the country’s opioid addiction epidemic.

"What we are seeing in an ahistorical manner is life expectancy is actually going down because of the number of deaths attributed to opioid addiction among other factors," Sanders said in a recent CNN interview. “We are seeing in virtually every state in this country people’s lives are being wrecked, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people’s lives.”

NORML's Strekal added in a statement, “With Senator Sanders cosponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act alongside Senators Booker and Gillibrand, it’s time for the party to speak with one voice that they will legalize marijuana and expunge the criminal convictions of the millions who are being held back from achieving both employment and the American dream."

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is also a cosponsor of the S.1689 Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 bill. Sanders is the first non-Democrat to place his support behind the legislation.

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